Detroit Pistons: Who will start at point guard next season?

Detroit Pistons Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Who will take the reigns as the Detroit Pistons point guard next season?

The Detroit Pistons will head into the 2021 regular season (assuming that a 2021 “regular” season happens) with a dilemma at point guard.

With Reggie Jackson gone and Derrick Rose‘s injury history, Detroit doesn’t have a bonafide starter.

As of today, the Pistons have 3 point guards on their roster; Rose, Brandon Knight, and Jordan Bone.

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Rose performed admirably this season but spent most of it on a minute restriction before finishing it on the injury report. As much as I would love to see Rose play a full starter’s share in Detroit, it’s not likely.

(unless Tom Thibodeau sneaks onto the Pistons bench and starts whispering in Dwane Casey’s ear like Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings).

At this point in his career, Rose is like a classic car, it’s too risky to have him as your daily driver, but he’s far too nice of a basketball player to be left in the garage all year. Whoever plays the bulk of the minutes at point guard next year would ideally complement that dynamic.

Brandon Knight, a salary dump acquired in the Andre Drummond salary dump, was a pleasant surprise in his second go-around as a Piston but admittedly standards are, ahem, a little low in Detroit right now.

But we try to deal in silver linings here at PistonPowered and Brandon Knight has played the point guard position at a high-level before and shouldn’t be ruled out as a rotation player for the Pistons next year. In Milwaukee, after his first stint in Detroit, Knight posted a 17, 5, 4 on 43/40/80 shooting splits at age 23. Mind you, he’s only 28 now.

Since then, Brandon Knight has struggled to stay on the court (that year with Milwaukee was the last time he played more than 55 games in a season) but the Pistons don’t need him to play 36 minutes a night, he’ll be splitting point guard duties with Derrick Rose.

Plus, he can bounce between shooting guard and point guard. That flexibility makes him a great fit with the Pistons’ guards of the future; Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard.

While Brandon Knight might be a nice stop-gap as the Pistons rebuild, it’s no guarantee he’ll return to the Pistons – he’s a free agent after this season.

Jordan Bone has played 53 total minutes in the NBA, so it’s pretty unlikely he’ll start for the Pistons next year. (Of course, the season is slated to start in 2020, so just about anything is possible. Jordan Bone could literally transform into Oscar Robertson and we’d all shrug and say, “2020, you crazy!”)

Outside of current players listed at point guard, the Pistons will likely explore the upcoming class of free-agents, in particular one Fred VanVleet.

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Detroit has been linked to VanVleet, notably by Zach Lowe of ESPN on the Lowe Post Podcast, “That team across the lake in Detroit will take a hard look at him,” Lowe said when discussing FVV’s free-agent prospects.

It must be mentioned that this was said before the new Pistons GM, Troy Weaver had come aboard.

But the tie between FVV and the Pistons is more likely a result of VanVleet’s history with Detroit’s Head Coach and former Toronto Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey. “Case was huge for me,” VanVleet said before last year’s NBA Finals, “He believed in me, he gave me a shot when most people thought I didn’t belong in the NBA.”

VanVleet would undoubtedly be the most talented point guard the Pistons could employ next year but he’s due a big payday.  Forbes projected that Fred VanVleet could command a $100 million contract, back in February.

That may be hard for the Pistons to swallow after just clearing their books of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson’s contracts.

While no one is sure how much the NBA Salary Cap will be affected by COVID-19, signing FVV for a $100 million contract or the post-pandemic equivalent basically railroads that team into saying, “Fred Van Vleet will be a core piece of this team for the next half-decade.”

A 4 – 5-year contract worth $20 million per for a player of VanVleet’s caliber is fair but I’m not so sure the Pistons should be the ones to pay it.

The Pistons’ roster is far away from being championship relevant and the last thing they should do is take on contracts that cripple their long term flexibility. Especially when so much of their long term future is unknown.

Can Blake Griffin return and not only play at a high level but fit into a rebuilding team? Is Christian Wood going to re-sign? What’s Sekou’s ceiling? Where, or who, do the Pistons draft this year?

Only 25, VanVleet could be a bridge between the Blake Griffin & Derrick Rose era Pistons and the young core they’ve built in Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown, Sekou Doumbouya, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and Christian Wood (please).

A starting lineup of Fred VanVleet, Luke Kennard, Svi, Blake Griffin, and Christian Wood – does sound like a LOT of fun…

The free-agent class drops off after VanVleet and includes names like Jeff Teague, Reggie Jackson (hey, we know that guy!), and Rajon Rondo.

But another point guard free-agent that might appeal to the Pistons is Goran Dragic. Dragic was relegated to sixth-man status for the very talented Miami Heat but is still capable of playing at a high-level.

If the Pistons find VanVleet’s asking price to luxurious for their taste and still want to employ a free-agent point guard, Dragic would be a quality and fun-to-watch stop-gap as the Pistons determine who their starting point guard of the future is.

Dragic averaged 28 minutes per game this past year, which is in that sweet spot that still allows room for Derrick Rose to do his thang.

At age 33, Dragic is much more likely to sign a short-term, cheaper deal than VanVleet, which would align better with Rose and Griffin’s contracts.

Plus, if the Pistons land either of the high-profile point guards from this year’s upcoming draft; Killian Hayes or LaMelo Ball, Rose and Dragic are nice mentors to have on the roster.

But the option I would advocate most passionately for is to let Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard play substantial minutes at point guard. That’s right, I’m the guy in the meeting saying, “Let’s go with the internal hire.”

We don’t even need to make the case for Bruce Brown – he already excelled at the role earlier this year.

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One of the issues we’ve seen with Kennard is a lack of aggressiveness, he’s got the skills to be an amazing offensive player but he often defers to other players and hesistates to create.

According to BBall Index, Kennard earned an A- in all major playmaking categories except for High Value Passes Over Expectations (ability to generate high-value scoring opportunities for teammates relative to their passing aggressiveness and ball control) where he earned a B+ and  Passing Aggressiveness, where he earned a C+.

BBall Index actually ranks Kennard’s playmaking ability as his best attribute, even over his shooting.

Putting the ball in Luke’s hand not only shows the team’s trust in him but it also allows him to initiate the offense more often, both of which lead to a more aggressive version of Luke.

Kennard has the ball-handling skills and can comfortably navigate a pick and roll. His shooting ability could make him a deadly pick and roll partner, especially paired with someone like Christian Wood who also has the ability to pop out.

Kennard’s size, while average for a shooting guard, would be ideal for a point guard.  His assist and turnover numbers were actually slightly better than Bruce Brown’s, despite spending no time at the point guard position. Brown posted a 4.0 APG and 1.7 TOPG, while Kennard finished with a 4.1 and 1.5 before lockdown.

And they cover each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well. Kennard hasn’t been a strong defender, so far, during his time in the NBA but Bruce Brown is an absolute bulldog on the defensive end. On the flip side, Brown has struggled to become a go-to scorer but Kennard has a seemingly endless bag of tricks.

So, while adding a high-profile free agent is more exciting (I remember exactly where I was when I saw the Blake Griffin news break) I’d rather see the Pistons hand the keys to the offense to Brown and Kennard.

Developing young players and then adding high-profile players, like frosting on a well-baked cake, is a much more reliable strategy.

I mean, look at recent champions like the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors. Each developed a core that raised the franchise from mediocre to relevant, which in turn allowed them to add free-agents that put the team over the edge, which eventually led to titles.

Following that model is the Pistons’ best chance to return to relevancy.

Don’t believe me? Here’s how Kennard and Brown’s past season compares to VanVleet’s season prior to his “leap”.

Let’s save $100 million and see what we have here in Detroit. The kids are gonna be alright.

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